As the holiday season approaches, PHR will take a look at what teams are thankful for as the season heads towards the one-quarter mark. There also might be a few things your team would like down the road. We’ll examine what’s gone well in the early going and what could improve as the season rolls on for the Boston Bruins.
What are the Bruins most thankful for?
A light early schedule.
Normally, if you said that November was coming to an end and the Bruins were seven points out of a divisional playoff spot, alarm bells would be ringing all across Boston. But with just 15 games played so far — tied for the lowest total in the league — there’s plenty of time to make up that ground. In fact, the Bruins have played five fewer games than the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings, two teams ahead of them in the Atlantic standings. Sure, things aren’t going perfect for Boston through the early part of the year with a 9-6 record, but it’s not panic time just yet.
Who are the Bruins most thankful for?
The “Perfection” line.
Despite two of its members being in their mid-30s, the Bruins’ top line is just as devastating as ever. Brad Marchand is off to an incredible start with 20 points in his first 15 games (a points/game pace that has him fifth in the league), David Pastrnak has 15 points despite shooting at a career-low 7.6%, and Patrice Bergeron continues to be arguably the most effective two-way center in the league. The 36-year-old Bergeron has 13 points in 15 games, has been on the ice for just six goals against at even-strength (compared to 11 for) and has won 62.7% of his faceoffs to this point — easily the highest mark in the league from any full-time center.
Like they have for years now, the top line of the Bruins is carrying the offensive load while they try to figure out the rest of the lineup. While players like Craig Smith and Erik Haula struggle to find the back of the net, Pastrnak, Bergeron and Marchand are keeping the team in the top half of the league for goals for per game. It’s not going to last forever, but it still is for now.
What would the Bruins be even more thankful for?
Tuukka Rask’s return.
One of the biggest differences in Boston this year is the goaltending tandem, a brand-new duo of Jeremy Swayman and Linus Ullmark. Neither one has been exceptional, or even above-average so far, with a flat .908 save percentage for each of them. That’s not the end of the world, but it’s also not what the Bruins have been used to for the last decade-plus. In each of the 12 seasons that Rask played at least 23 games for the team, he posted a save percentage of at least .913. Overall in his career, that number was .921, one of the best in the history of the NHL.
It doesn’t mean Swayman and Ullmark can’t play to a level better than they have so far, but there’s certainly no guarantee that they will. The issue is, there’s also no guarantee that Rask can play up to the level he has in the past, even if he comes back to the team in 2022 at full strength. The veteran netminder has been clear about his desire to play for Boston once he recovers from hip surgery, even skating at its facility lately. If the Bruins have their eyes set on another postseason run, it still seems likely that it will include Rask, at least in some fashion.
What should be on the Bruins’ Holiday Wish List?
A second-line center.
If the change in net was the most noticeable, perhaps the most important was the one at the second-line pivot position. David Krejci’s departure and subsequent return to the Czech Republic left a massive hole in the Bruins lineup, one that to this point has been filled mostly with Charlie Coyle. It’s not that Coyle has played poorly in that role; in fact quite the opposite, as he leads all non-first-line Bruins forwards in goals and points through the first 15 games. But the team has said many times in the past that they think he is most effective on the wing, and having him there or even on the third line instead would only help to lengthen out what has become a top-heavy group.
By acquiring a legitimate top-six center at some point, it would slot everyone else in the Bruins’ lineup down a peg and make them seem like a much more well-rounded group. It’s not always easy to find that kind of player, but the team does actually have some extra cap space this time around to make an addition at the deadline. In fact, if they don’t make any drastic changes over the next few months, they could have more than $10M in space to make a big splash. Whether they’ll have the assets to do that is another question, as is whether they’ll be in the right spot standings-wise for it to make sense.